It’s now been four years since our trip to Pakistan, and there’s a current meme on Facebook that says, “If you had a magic wand, where on earth would you go?” Without a second thought, I say, “Lahore, Pakistan.”
I know my friends were, and still are, surprised that I glow when talking about Lahore. Simply put, we did not have enough time there as that segment of our Pakistan visit lasted only three days.
In December 2016, we had intended to only visit one place in Pakistan: Islamabad. The female campus of The International Islamic University of Islamabad had invited my husband and me to visit so we could show our documentary feature, “Beauty Bites Beast: The Missing Conversation about Ending Violence.” Remember this was mere weeks after the November 2016 election in the United States that started the out of control Trumpster Fire, which is still burning. Even in Pakistan, people knew that Hillary had gotten 3 million more popular votes, and many we spoke with were as upset and bewildered as we were. The look in their eyes of “you let us down” spoke volumes without uttering a word.
I contacted the United Nations Association in Pakistan to see if we could show our movie in any other areas since the trip to Pakistan is a ginormous undertaking. Our feeling was, as long as we’re there, let’s make the most of it!
Each year U.N. women groups everywhere take 16 days to commemorate their vision of ending violence against women. In 2016, the Punjab ministry was just rolling out a “one-stop” locale for everything a woman needs to escape domestic violence. Briefly, Pakistani women often would not report DV incidents because it meant having to shuttle between many agencies: police, legal, childcare, time off of work, mental and physical health. Having just one place that handles everything was a radical idea, not only in Pakistan but even in the U.S. as we don’t have this innovation here.
After word got out about us being in Islamabad, we were asked if we could go to Lahore to help kick off this new initiative by screening our film there. Our answer? Yes!
Unlike Islamabad, the audience for our Lahore screening included men. I was most moved by a father and daughter who talked to me after the film. The father said, “I was reluctant to come because I was afraid it would be about hating men! It wasn’t. It included us as a part of the solution to ending violence against women. Thank you!” The daughter added, “I begged him to come, and I promised him it wouldn’t be offensive, and it was entertaining too!”
Ah. Music to my ears, although “Your film isn’t offensive,” is a little like being damned with faint praise. On the other hand, “offensive content” is a big deal in Lahore, which has different rules than Islamabad. My husband had to make the requested edits to the film in our hotel room!
We did a fair amount of sightseeing, especially in the “Old City,” the ancient walled area of Lahore that predates written history. While there, I swear I could hear the cacophony of sounds echoing across millennia from those who made Lahore the ancient crossroads it has always been. I could see glimmers of camel caravans, smell the spices from the spice markets that have been there forever, and appreciate a city that tolerates many different cultures and religions. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews … all have not only crossed paths in Lahore but have traded peacefully.
We were strolling next to the old city one night and had stopped to view the ancient walls when a man with two little boys approached us.
“I see that you’re Americans. May I have my sons shake your hands, so they have a good experience of people from your country?” The two most darling little guys walked up, and we shook their hands, and our hearts almost burst.
Then, as we were walking by a tea and coffee stand, the proprietor ran out and wanted to give us a hot drink since it was a tad chilly outside. We tried to pay, and he rejected it. So I said, “Would you like to take a selfie, and we can post it to our Facebook pages?”
We did, and I held up a handwritten sign: “Best Tea in Lahore.”
We also made friends in Lahore with a woman who is near and dear to us to this day, Kiran Khan. My husband and I both write for her publication. I’m proud to say that I’m the only American writer I know who writes every month for a Pakistani national magazine, “International Culture and Art.”
Yep, give me that magic wand, and I will fly back to Lahore in the blink of an eye!
Ellen Snortland has written Consider This… for the Pasadena Weekly for decades. Reach her at email@example.com